“ALMIGHTY Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, did institute the Sacrament of his Body and Blood; Mercifully grant that we may thankfully receive the same in remembrance of him, who in these holy mysteries giveth us a pledge of life eternal; the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.”
– Collect for Maundy Thursday, 1979 Book of Common Prayer
Maundy Thursday (or Holy Thursday as my Roman Catholic brethren call it) is the day of the maundy (foot washing) and the Last Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ, before the crucifixion and resurrection. Some churches practice one or the other and sometimes both rituals on this day.
I remember the first time I participated in the foot washing ritual. I was a student at Boston College participating in a service trip to Mexico. We spent a long day working on a house for a family. The Jesuit priest, who was our trip leader, began to explain what the foot washing ritual was. My colleagues were all Roman Catholic and were well aware. I was a Baptist at the time and had no clue. I knew the scripture reference, but was confused as to the nature of the ritual.
When the priest brought out the large bowl, I decided to make sure I sat next to an attractive woman, in order to wash her feet. I was 20-years-old at the time and preferred my foot washing experience to be enhanced by pretty, manicured, feminine feet. Yes, this is quite shallow, and in many ways, I was a shallow Christian at the time.
When large bowl made its rounds, I began to get a little nervous of having a woman wash my feet. It felt a little too intimate. I remembered that the only person who had touched my feet was my mom when I was child. She would tickle my feet. The time came, and I took off my shoe and my sock. I placed my foot into the bowl and felt the lukewarm water. I then felt the hand of the young lady grab my heel and with her other hand, scoop the water onto the top of my foot.
I immediately felt, as much as I could, the feeling that the disciples felt; uncomfortable, and unworthy. I started to picture Jesus washing my feet. I wanted to jerk my foot back because of these feelings, but I endured. I started to reflect on what just happened, then I remembered, it was my turn to wash feet.
As I grabbed the bowl and turned to face the next woman, I still had those feelings of uncomfortableness, confusion and worthlessness. I decided that I was going to clean this woman’s foot as best as I could, because of the feelings that I experienced. I gently grabbed her heel, and with my free hand, I scooped water onto her foot several times. I took my time in drying her foot. A small part of me wondered if she thought I had some sort of foot fetish. But I think she knew I was genuine. I remember when the foot washing ritual ended, and the we concluded with the Eucharist, I thanked God for the opportunity to participate in such a powerful ritual.
Since that moment, I participated in various foot washing ceremonies. Some of the ceremonies corresponded with Maundy Thursday (in the historical churches), and others did not (free churches, during revivals and such). Each and every time I think about the type of servant leader that Jesus of Nazareth was. How He, as the Lord, decided to psychically take care of his brothers, his flock. I can only hope and pray, that I can show a fraction of the level of love and care for my brothers and my flock.
– Fr. JMH